Referees exist in a world where human error is amplified by television cameras and social media scrutiny, and they never get to win. Except on days like Tuesday, when Croatian soccer referee Bruno Maric played the role of first responder following a face-rattling collision between Zvonimir Filipovic and an opposing player during a quarterfinal match in the Croatian Cup between Cibalia and NK Istra 1961.
In the match’s 36th minute, Filipovic made a run near the goalkeeper’s box when he was greeted with a shoulder from an opposing defender. He immediately crumpled to the ground, video shows.
Maric recognized that the forward’s dramatic fall was more than posturing for a call, faster than most others on the pitch at the time.
“I was a meter away from him and saw that he was starting to swallow his own tongue and choke,” Maric told Croatiaweek. “I immediately turned him on his side and pulled his tongue out. He bites me hard, and luckily I was successful to take his tongue out in time before there was serious consequences.”
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This wasn’t the first time Maric’s name was in the limelight. He was wrongfully accused of rigging the result of the 2009 Croatian Cup final, according to Reuters, and he was beaten by soccer hooligans with metal sticks last year in the Croatian city of Split.
And Maric isn’t the only life-saving sport official.
In June, Major League Baseball umpire John Tumpane helped rescue a woman who had climbed over the railing along Roberto Clemente Bridge in Pittsburgh and appeared to be suicidal. Like Maric, Tumpane was the first to respond to the situation, and grabbed the woman and talked her off of the ledge until authorities arrived, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“I was thinking, ‘God, this has to be a good ending, not a bad ending,’ and held on for dear life,” Tumpane told the Post-Gazette.